Friday, April 16, 2010

Lecture on Meditteranean Diet by Dr. Artemis Simopoulos

On April 15th at the Cathedral in New York City, world-renown author Artemis Simopoulos, MD, lectured on the Mediterranean diet in memory of Dr. Demetrios Flessas. Dr. Simopoulos is the President of The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, DC, and one of the first researchers to discover the virtues of ω-3 fatty acids through her studies of the diets of the Mediterranean peoples. Through the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, she and others conducted studies on the different Mediterranean diets, as well as Indian, Chinese, Western and other diets. She found that the diet of Greece, with its high amounts of ω-3 fatty acids, or “good fats” — as well as its excellent balance between the ω-3s and ω-6s — is the best of these diets. She is the author of several books, such as The Omega Diet: The Lifesaving Nutritional Program Based on the Diet of the Island of Crete, A Balanced Omega-6/ Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio, Cholesterol and Coronary Heart Disease), and Metabolic Control of Eating, Energy Expenditure and the Bioenergetics of Obesity and over 280 scientific papers. Having received her MD degree at the age of 23 from Boston University School of Medicine she was the youngest person to graduate from medical school in Massachusetts.

Dr. Simopoulos began with a slide of Hippocrates, who many centuries ago wrote about the importance of exercise combined with diet, genetics and a good home environment. She then talked about genotype, the environment and development producing phenotype, and presented the results of several studies on diet in easy-to-understand yet detailed graphs and charts. She focused on the importance of ω-3 fatty acids such as linolenic acid and the ratio of ω-6 fatty acids, such as linoleic acid, to ω-3 fatty acids. She stressed that, in Paleolithic times, people ate much more vegetables than today. In the diet then and in many vegetarian or eastern diets today, the ratio of ω-6:ω-3 fatty acids is close to 1:1. . Food production as we know it began about 10,000 years ago. Linoleic acid is plentiful in many vegetable oils, such as poppy seed, safflower, sunflower, and corn oils. The very healthy ω-3 fatty acids α-linolenic acid is found in vegetables common in Greek diet such as purslane, known as glystrida or antrahla in Greek [verify]. This is the eighth most commonly eaten wild plant in the world. Its ω-3 fatty acid content is much higher than spinach, red leaf lettuce and buttercrunch lettuce. Western diets are not as rich in this fatty acid as they used to be or as Mediterranean diets such as the Greek diet are today. Even when meat was incorporated into the diet, it did not include the chemicals and processing that we see today.

Genetics is not destiny through diet and exercise, we can get healthier. In fact, later in the lecture, she said that exercise induces different cellular pathways in the body than the aging process. She showed how, through the years, the consumption of Western diets high in fast food, red meat and processed foods that are often high in saturated fats and calories has increased through the years in the US and worldwide, and has been associated with diseases such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, and several cancers. The preferred diets by nutritionists are diets low in healthy fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, like those olive oil, and high in ω-6/ ω-3 fatty acids.

She went on to show several charts showing the ratio of ω-6: ω-3 fatty acids in various diets such as the Greek and Western diets. The Greek diet prior to 1960, which was closer to the authentic Greek diet, showed a higher percentage of ω-3 to ω-6 fatty acids as was the diet of Crete prior to 1960. Legumes such as lentils, “wild” vegetables know as “horta” in Greek, and fruits played and still play a huge role in keeping away heart disease and cancer. In recent years, fast food and snacks such as ham and cheese sandwiches have predominated in the Greek diet. As a matter of fact, Dr. Simopoulos stressed how much healthier and less full of saturated fats Greek cheeses such as feta and myzithra are compared to cheeses such as American and cheddar cheese. The Greek cheeses contain arachidonic (polyunsaturated ω-6 fatty acid), eicasopentaenoic (ω-3 fatty acid), docosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic (ω -3 fatty acids), whereas US cheeses do not. The Indian diet in rural areas has an ω-6: ω-3 fatty acid ratio close to 5:1. However, in urban areas, perhaps because of the predominance of fast food and frying with ω-6–containing oils, the level of ω-6 fatty acid is much higher to that of ω-3 fatty acid. Another chart showed how people who ate diets high in polyunsaturated fats and fatty acids, such as those of Greenland Eskimos who ate a lot of fish fat, suffered from fewer incidences of cardiovascular deaths than those who ate other diets such as those in Europe and the United States. Moderate amounts of alcohol, especially red wine, were also found to prevent disease.

Livestock and poultry fed on grass instead of corn produce healthier milk, eggs, and meat because they contain ω -3’s. Feeding on these products, less common in Western diets, was associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases and cancers. These products include pasta made from them.

In another study, Greek snails were found to have higher levels of ω-3 fatty acids than French snails.

Dr. Simopoulos advised that, in New York City, one can find purslane and other horta at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. She concluded with seven dietary guidelines of her book The Omega Diet published by Harper Collins:

The seven dietary guidelines of The Omega Diet

On the 5 to 8 of October 2010, Dr. Simopoulos will be in Ancient Olympia, Greece for the conference of the World Council on Genetics, Nutrition and Fitness for Health called “Healthy Agriculture, Healthy Nutrition and Healthy People”. For more information, visit